Open-ended evolution workshop

To start off this year’s ECAL in York, I participated in the workshop on Open Ended Evolution: Recent Progress and Future Milestones. The tile and abstract of my mini presentation are as follows:

Groundlessness avoids openness reduction in hierarchies of emergence

Tom Froese

One way of measuring open-endedness is in terms of the maintenance or increase of degrees of freedom. If emergence is defined as the collective dynamics resulting from nonlinear coupling between two or more components, then the degrees of freedom of the emergent phenomenon cannot in principle be greater than the sum of degrees of freedom of its underlying components. In practice, it tends to be less than that sum because the collective dynamics are subject to more constraints than the isolated dynamics of each component. The same logic applies to the creation of novelty at each emergent level of organization, thereby rapidly choking off possibilities for open-ended emergence of new layers of complexity. This is not a problem in practice if we consider nature to have sufficient degrees of complexity to begin with (although this is a problem for simulations). I propose that this is not even a problem in principle if we consider nature to be groundless (although this excludes simulations by definition).

The workshop will continue with a follow-up session on Friday.

Artificial Life XV in 2016, Cancun, Mexico

Next year’s International Conference on the Synthesis and Simulation of Living Systems (Artificial Life XV) will take place in beautiful Cancun, Mexico, July 4-8, 2016. I am part of the local organizing team, helping to make the first Alife conference in Latin America a memorable event.


For more information see the conference website:

European Conference on Artificial Life 2015

Next week the European Conference on Artificial Life 2015 will take place in York, England, July 20-24. I will be giving a poster presentation on the following topic:

Toward a behavior-based approach to the origins of life and the genetic system

Tom Froese

In the origin of life community there has been a dispute about whether metabolism or replication came first. Yet both of these approaches are in implicit agreement that the first forms of life were basically passive. That shared assumption has begun to be challenged by a new generation of metabolism-first approaches, emphasizing that movement and adaptive behavior could have played an important role right from the start. After introducing recent research on this behavior-based approach to the origin of life, I offer a preliminary assessment of what this new approach implies for the origins of the genetic system.

Click on the title to download the extended abstract.

Research visit to Chile

Next week I will be in Chile for the first time. On Monday, July 6, I will give a seminar at the Instituto de Filosofia y Ciencias de la Complejidad (IFICC). The details can be seen on the flyer below:


Then on Friday I will give a mini-seminar on “The key concepts of the enactive revolution”, which will take place at the Department of Philosophy, Universidad Alberto Hurtado, Santiago, Chile.
Time: Friday 10 July, 12:00 – 14:00 hrs.
Participants: Tom Froese (key note speaker), Glenda Satne (Universidad Alberto Hurtado, Chile), and Mario Villalobos (Universidad de Tarapacá, Chile).

Emergence in Chemical Systems

On June 23-26 the University of Alaska, Anchorage, will host the international conference Emergence in Chemical Systems 4.0. I was invited to give a talk. My title and abstract are as follows:

Motility at the origin of life and the evolution of the genome

Tom Froese

Traditionally, there has been a dispute about whether metabolism or replication came first during the origin of life. Yet both of these approaches are in implicit agreement that the first forms of life were basically passive. That shared assumption has begun to be challenged by a new generation of metabolism-first approaches, emphasizing that movement and adaptive behavior could have played an important role right from the start (1-3). I introduce this theory of a behavior-based origin of life and consider how it can help to inform our thinking about the origins of the genetic system.

Read the rest of this entry »

Talk at event on Mazatec culture

Carte - Final, Jornada MazatecaOn the 5th of June there will be an event on “Mazatec culture, shamanism and sacred plants” at the Autonomous University of the State of Morelos, Mexico.

I have been invited as one of the speakers and my presentation will be about the latest research on the psychological effects of the use of sacred mushrooms.

The title is: “Nuevos estudios sobre los efectos psicológicos de los hongos sagrados: Neurociencia y modelación”.

I propose that we can better understand the latest neuroscientific results about altered brain function, especially related to increased levels of entropy, from the perspective of complex systems theory.

Commentary on The Cognitive-Emotional Brain

Pessoa2013One of the next issues of Behavioral and Brain Sciences will include a discussion of Pessoa’s (2013) book The Cognitive-Emotional Brain: From Interactions to Integration by MIT Press. I wrote the following short piece as part of the peer commentary that will be published with Pessoa’s précis.

Enactive neuroscience, the direct perception hypothesis, and the socially extended mind

Tom Froese

Pessoa’s The Cognitive-Emotional Brain (2013) is an integrative approach to neuroscience that complements other developments in cognitive science, especially enactivism. Both accept complexity as essential to mind; both tightly integrate perception, cognition, and emotion, which enactivism unifies in its foundational concept of sense-making; and both emphasize that the spatial extension of mental processes is not reducible to specific brain regions and neuroanatomical connectivity. An enactive neuroscience is emerging.

Talks at AISB 2015

I am giving two invited talks at this year’s meeting of the Society for the Study of Artificial Intelligence and Simulation of Behavior (AISB 2015), which is being held in Canterbury, April 20-22. Titles and short abstracts are as follows:

The enactive theory of social cognition: From theory to experiment

Tom Froese

For over a decade I have been working on applying an evolutionary robotics approach to gain a better understanding of the dynamics of social interaction. At the same time I have been developing the enactive theory of social cognition by drawing on the phenomenological philosophy of intersubjectivity. Recently I was able to test the predictions deriving from this research on the basis of a psychological experiment using a new variation of the perceptual crossing paradigm. The empirical results support a genuinely enactive conception of social cognition as primarily grounded in embodied intersubjectivity.

The behavior-based origin of life and the problem of genetic representation

Tom Froese

Traditionally, there has been a dispute about whether metabolism or replication came first during the origin of life. While the metabolism-first approach focuses on chemical self-constitution of an individual, the replicator-first approach focuses on generational self-replication of a population of informational molecules. Yet both implicitly agree that the first forms of life were isolated, passive, and static individuals. Both ignore the intermediate timescales of activity between chemical self-constitution and population evolution: no mention is made of behavior and development. These assumptions are challenged by a new generation of metabolism-first approaches, which emphasize that movement and adaptive behavior could have played an important role right from the start. I consider how this behavior-based approach to the origin of life can inform our thinking about a number of traditional problems.
Read the rest of this entry »

Talk at the Society for American Archaeology

Next week I am scheduled to give a talk during the 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, which will take place April 15-19 in San Francisco. Title and abstract are as follows:

Can government be self-organized? A mathematical model of the collective social organization of ancient Teotihuacan, Central Mexico

Tom Froese, Carlos Gershenson, and Linda R. Manzanilla

Pyramid of the Feathered SerpentTeotihuacan was the first extensive urban civilization of Mesoamerica and one of the largest of the ancient world. Following a tradition in archaeology to equate social complexity with centralized hierarchy, it is still widely believed that its origin and growth was controlled by a dynastic lineage of powerful individuals.

However, much data is indicative of a government of co-rulers, and artistic traditions expressed an egalitarian ideology while deemphasizing individuals. Yet this heterarchical alternative keeps being marginalized because the problems of collective action, such as the tragedy of the commons, make it difficult to conceive how such a coalition could have functioned even in principle. We therefore devised a simplified mathematical model of the city’s hypothetical network of neighborhood representatives, serving as a proof of concept that widespread cooperation was realizable in a fully distributed manner.

In the model, political decisions become self-organized into globally optimal consensuses, even though local representatives always behave and modify relations in a rational and selfish manner. The network’s self-optimization of connectivity crucially depends on occasional communal interruptions of normal activity, and becomes impeded when groups are too independent. We relate these insights to theories about community rituals at Teotihuacan and the city’s eventual disintegration.

Talk on dynamics, phenomenology, and development

Next week I will give a talk at the 18th Herbstakademie: The Circularity of Mind and Body, which will take place in Heidelberg, Germany, March 26-28. The title and abstract are as follows:

Investigations of the interactively extended embodied mind: Dynamics, phenomenology, and development

Tom Froese

I will present the latest results deriving from many years of interdisciplinary investigations of the socially extended embodied mind. The upshot is that the process of understanding another person is best studied as primarily consisting of a direct perceptual experience of each other, whereby this genuinely second-person perspective is co-constituted by the skillful mutual coordination of bodily interaction. There are many theoretical reasons for accepting this position, and a series of agent-based models of bodily interaction show that the emergence of a dynamically extended embodiment spanning two agents is possible in principle. In fact, the mathematics of nonlinear interactions leads us to expect that such mutual incorporation should be found in actuality. But can it?

We studied this possibility by means of the perceptual crossing paradigm, in which the embodied interaction of pairs of adults is mediated by a minimalist virtual reality interface. As predicted, behaviors became entrained during interaction, and there was a positive correlation between objective measures of coordination and subjective reports of clearer awareness of the other’s presence. Intriguingly, there was a tendency for coordinating participants to independently report within seconds of each other that they had noticed the other, suggesting that there was a mutual recognition of a genuinely shared experience. But was this moment experienced from a second-person perspective? And if so, did it develop as a skill?

To answer these questions we performed a qualitative study of free-text phenomenological descriptions of the moment of recognition, as well as a diachronic analysis of the results. Since participants had to implicitly relearn how to perceive the other’s presence, we hypothesized that there would be a recapitulation of the initial developmental stages of social awareness, starting with more dyadic forms of self-directedness. Our preliminary results indicate that this was indeed the case.

« Older entries


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 74 other followers